Stately White Oak Named “The Morgan Tree” after Harcourt Morgan ​

The Morgan Tree on the UTIA campus
A stately white oak on the campus of the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture has been included as an historic tree on the Tennessee Landmark, Historic, and Heritage Tree Registry, a list maintained by the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council. ​The oak has been named the Morgan Tree after Harcourt Morgan, the first director of agricultural research at the university and an early 20th century president of UT. Photo by E. Haskew, courtesy UTIA. Download image​.

The image below shows the Morgan Tree overseeing the agricultural research plots on the UTIA campus sometime in the early to mid 20th century. Cherokee Bluff, which is across the Tennessee River, is shown in the background. 

(updated 11/14/2018)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – A stately white oak on the campus of the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture has been included as an historic tree on the Tennessee Landmark, Historic, and Heritage Tree Registry, a list maintained by the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council. Located on the corner of Joe Johnson Drive and Chapman Drive and on top of the “Indian Mound,” the white oak (Quercus alba L.) that measures nearly 44 inches in diameter has been a landmark on campus for more than a century. 

Nominated for inclusion on the registry by Scott E. Schlarbaum, a professor of forest genetics, the Indian Mound on which the tree grows dates from the late Woodland period (roughly 1,000 years ago) and has witnessed the formation of the nation, the Civil War and our history to the present day. The tree itself has witnessed UT’s first agricultural research efforts and the formation and growth of UTIA, which is celebrating its 50th year. 

Schlarbaum says acorns from the tree have been collected by UT’s Tree improvement Program and the resulting seedlings will be incorporated into a genetic test to be planted on the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Norris Reservation in 2019. The genetic test will eventually be thinned to produce a seed orchard that will supply the State Nursery with acorns for reforestation and restoration purposes specifically for eastern Tennessee. Schlarbaum directs the UT Tree Improvement Program.

Schlarbaum recommended that the tree be named after Harcourt Morgan, a professor of zoology and entomology who served as director of the Tennessee Agricultural Experiment Station beginning in 1905. Morgan, for whom the UTIA headquarters building Morgan Hall is named, eventually rose to the rank of UT president from 1919 until 1934 and was named to serve on the original TVA board of directors by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, becoming chairman in 1938. Morgan’s philosophy emphasized a harmonious relationship between humans and the environment, which he called a “Common Mooring.”  By encouraging farmers to practice crop rotation among other beneficial practices, and through his work on boll weevils and cattle ticks, Morgan had a large impact on the agricultural industry in Tennessee and across the Mid South. 

The 27th Annual Conference of the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council convened October 14 and 15 at Cheekwood Estates in Nashville, and the tree was added to the registry at that event. UT’s Sharon Jean-Philippe, an associate professor of forestry who is serving as the current president of the organization, said, “The Tennessee Urban Forestry Council is deeply rooted in promoting healthy and sustainable urban and community forests that contribute to clean air and water, economic stability and beautiful green places in which all Tennesseans and future generations will live, work and play.”  TUFC is a nonprofit organization supported by members including of businesses, groups and individuals with an interest in urban forestry.

The Morgan Tree has seen many changes and improvements made throughout the years on the UTIA campus. The 36-acre tract of land on which it resides was purchased in 1904 as an agricultural research farm. As described in An Honored Calling – A History of the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, the University of Tennessee, by Professor Horace C. Smith (edited by Lisa Byerley Gary), many students had to work to attend school, and many of those students worked on the farm. Schlarbaum says it’s not hard to imagine those students and faculty eating lunch under the shade of the white oak. 

Today students, faculty and staff of the Herbert College of Agriculture and UTIA pass the Morgan Tree on their way to work or class. The “UT Ag Farm Mound,” on which the tree resides, was entered in 1978 on the National Register of Historic Places and is maintained as a Native American Interpretive Garden, providing a green space for people to enjoy the Morgan Tree as well as other beautiful native plants. 

The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture celebrates 50 years of excellence in providing Real. Life. Solutions. through teaching, discovery and service.​.



Scott E. Schlarbaum, Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries,​